Chinese Cantonese Yale Romanization System


Cantonese is a dialect of Chinese spoken in many southern parts of China, including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Cantonese is a tonal language, meaning that words must be spoken at the right pitch to convey the correct meaning. Essentially, Cantonese uses 6 different tone 'structures' for the pronunciation of a word. There are three tones where the pitch does not vary. There are a further three tones where the pitch does vary. Although it is sometimes said that Cantonese has nine tones, the 'extra' three tones actually use the same pitch as the three unvarying tones described and do not use additional tone patterns.

The Yale romanization system was developed by Parker Huang and Gerald Kok for learners of Cantonese. The system uses a romanized word together with a marker to indicate the tone which must be used when the word is pronounced. It is widely used as the representation of Cantonese in course materials.

Tone Description Yale Example Cantonese Example
High Level wāi
High Rising wái
Middle Level wai
Low Falling wàih
Low Rising wáih
Low Level waih
The Yale Representation of the Six Cantonese Tone

Further information on the Cantonese Yale romanization system can be found at the Wikipedia on Yale Romanization and in the ICWL2005 conference paper that can be found in the publications page.


The Gong system supports the input, display and storage of the Cantonese Yale romanization system. This is particularly useful for Cantonese courses because this romanization system is not specifically supported by any software currently.

The Cantonese Yale romanization system as explained in the box on the right is a representation of Cantonese words by a combination of its romanized form and a tone marker. The Gong system attempts to simplify the process of inputting a Cantonese word by using a specially designed interface.


The Yale Toolbar
The User Interface for the Cantonese Yale Romanization

In the Gong system, there are seven tones that can be used for a Cantonese word. These tones are represented as a button in the user interface. When the user presses one of the buttons, the tone will be automatically associated with the selected Cantonese word. For example, the following steps are needed for the input of the Cantonese word "wái":

Type the Romanized Word
1. Type the word
Select the Word
2. Select the word
Click on the Tone Button
3. Click the tone button

The above example is only one of the tones available in the system. Selecting different tones yields a different display of the Cantonese word. The table below shows the tones supported by the Gong system and their corresponding display.

High Falling Tone
High Falling Tone
Word with High Falling Tone
High Level Tone
High Level Tone
Word with High Level Tone
High Rising Tone
High Rising Tone
Word with High Rising Tone
Middle Level Tone
Middle Level Tone
Word with Middle Level Tone
Low Falling Tone
Low Falling Tone
Word with Low Falling Tone
Low Rising Tone
Low Rising Tone
Word with Low Rising Tone
Low Level Tone
Low Level Tone
Word with Low Level Tone

Below is an example of a Cantonese conversation input as displayed in the Gong system. The conversation is extracted from course materials in the HKUST Language Center.

Cantonese Conversation
An Example Cantonese Conversation Input as Displayed in the Gong System